Why being sad and negative is happiness (Part I & II)


The protagonist in the movie Good Will Hunting, is commenting on his psychologists’ bookshelf, stating that he spend all this money on books and he buys the wrong ones. If we read a lot of the “self-help”-books today you might end up feeling the same way. There is a tremendous pressure today to be peppy all the time. We need to be happy and positive all the time. You are almost declared as a malfunction if you state otherwise.  I am going to tell you what is wrong with this picture, and why it is o.k. to be negative, sad and even depressed.

Feelings are a part of life
It is ok to be angry, sad, happy, depressed, euphoric or irritated. You are supposed to sense and live. What most of these books are failing to communicate is that it is the sum of the feelings that counts. This is why I have come up with a term I like to call “the basic level of happiness”

[box type=”alert”]Disclaimer: There is a difference between having negative feelings and a clinical depression. I acknowledge that mental illness is a serious problem and should be treated by experts, not via a blog. This blog post is intended for people not suffering from a mental illness or clinical depression. If you can’t seem to get out of a depression and it have lasted for more than 6 months you should consider to seek help from professionals.[/box]


In a rational moment

monday_morningSit down and compare yourself with the rest of the world. Not with your neighbors, but with the world you live in. I did this. I have a house, I have shelter, I manage to get food every day. I got clean clothes for me and my son. I do not freeze and I have friends and family that cares about me. I say, compared to the rest of the world I am rather lucky. Now define everything you could manage without – and still it won’t affect your basic level of happiness. I can manage without my TV, dishwasher, car, bike, fish tank, sofa, curtains, and lots of my clothes, luxury food and candy.

To raise my basic level of happiness, I could do with a little more money, yes money can make you happier, but I do not need to be rich. Spend more time with my son. Read more. Be more active outdoors.


When life gives you a left hook

Did this event bump your basic level of happiness? No? Then being sad for a while is ok, even angry. I have moments when I feel sad, it is natural. Then I make myself a cup of coffee, sit down and consider what I got in life. If my basic level of happiness is the same, I will say to myself: “It is ok to be sad now, just be sad for a moment and get it out of your system, everything is ok, I acknowledge my sadness” and then I feel a bit sorry for myself, but I do not dive into a deep black hole of darkness.


But what if…
Yes, some events might bump your basic level of happiness. Losing your home, job, spouse or anything else that would disturb the balance. If such an event happens, you know exactly why it happened. And you can come up with an action plan to make it better. Losing loved ones might be a though barrier to conquer, but as long as we acknowledge that their life will cross our path only for a certain time, we should be able to cherish the moments we had, instead of giving grief to the moments we will never have. And there might be need for help to get things back together, if the basic level of happiness gets a blow. Remember it is ok to be depressed about such events. But when you know that you might need a hand, it might be easier to ask for one too.


Do not fight your feelings

Feelings are a natural part of life. I have been coaching people that think that being sad indicates that there is something wrong with them. I know people with a melancholic mind that are happy, I know people that apparently got it all that are unhappy. You can be sad, depressed, angry and happy at the same time. The major difference is how you feel and what you know. I feel sad, but I know I am happy.


Negativity at work (Part II)

This is actually part II of this blog post, but I will keep it in the same place. Negative people at work, are good to get the optimists down to the ground. (I could just quit here) But there is a problem going on. Negative people at work are often considered troublemakers. They should be considered an important part of the process. They bring an important aspect to the meetings and new ideas that might surface during the office hours. Negative people see the faults in the plans of the positive optimists. I am a positive optimist myself, and I benefit a lot from negative people. The trick is to listen to them, get their view on paper, and make sure that they can assist in closing those holes in the plans. There is a difference between being negative and spreading a negative attitude. And here is where people get confused.


I know people that spread a positive attitude about their job, and love their job enough to tattoo the company logo on their chest. In meetings and discussions they always address the weak side of any plan, plot or idea – and wow that is so important. Because if the negative people approve of a plan, they will work extremely hard to make it a success, but if you ignore them, they won’t lift a finger.


What these people need to understand is to be aware of how negativity should be used in a positive way. I do not know any negative person that would love to work in a negative atmosphere.


Implementing basic level of happiness at work

What is your basic level of work satisfaction? Can you manage to define your basic level of work happiness? If you one day hate your job, that is ok as you feel bad about your job today, but you know that you love your job. Is there room for hating your job at work? Is it ok to tell your manager that your job sucks right now? If you do tell your boss that you hate your job, how will he/she react? And should you tell your boss about it, if you know it is only temporary? My advice is to be careful with what you say, because most managers are not like me.



There is a difference between having a feeling and to know how your life is. My life is not bad even if I am sad. My job does not suck even if I might experience a week of feeling down about it. If you manage to define what you know from what you feel, you might discover that it is ok to feel as long as it won’t change what is. You might even become aware of when the borders are being crossed and then again being able to take the appropriate action to fix it. Reflect when you are rational to prepare yourself for the downside of life and work. Enjoy the upside and I won’t tell you to suck it up, just feel it, acknowledge it and bounce back when you are ready. You can have negative feelings and still be happy.

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2 Comments on "Why being sad and negative is happiness (Part I & II)"

  1. MethodLeadership | April 4, 2013 at 3:39 am |

    Hi Frode,
    A valuable post.  My mother used to tell me, when I was down, “It’s okay to feel blue, it shows that you care”.  That advice stood me in good stead, and as I’ve grown I’ve come to understand why it’s good advice.
    Life is about pursuing values.  Material values and spiritual values (by spiritual I don’t mean religious, I mean non-material things like love, pride, justice).  The pursuit is not always easy; it’s beset with obstacles and challenges, which can cause frustration.  And having gained a value, you have to act to keep it.  Sometimes you lose values, and that makes you sad.  So be it.  That’s where the expression, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” comes from, I guess.
    The trick is knowing what is driving your emotions.  To experience an emotion, two things have to happen:  1. You need to recognize something in reality; and, 2. You make a judgement about it – good for me or bad for me.  This happens sub-consciously and automatically, and THE PROCESS IS FALLIBLE.
    What you think you recognize might not be true, and your judgement about whether its good or bad for you may be based on a wrong premise.  When you experience strong emotions, it’s important to ask, what is it in reality that’s making me feel this way, and is my judgement about that aspect of reality really true?  Often enough we’re mistaken in both what we “see” and in how we judge.
    But, if what you see is real, and if it’s really not good, and that’s upsetting, that’s the way it has to be.  Be happy in the fact that you are able to value things so highly that their loss is upsetting.  Far worse would it be to not care at all.

  2. TwonderWoman | April 3, 2013 at 2:57 am |

    Hi Frode,
    I definitely agree with this. Positivity all the time is just not realistic. There are problems, and if we don’t see the problems, we definitely won’t create solutions. Negativity actually helps us become better and more productive people in the long run 🙂

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